Photograph by Bob Smith, Nat Geo Image Collection
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A red-naped sapsucker perches on a tree trunk.

Photograph by Bob Smith, Nat Geo Image Collection

Red-Naped Sapsucker

The Rocky Mountain and Great Basin representative of the yellow-bellied sapsucker complex, the red-naped sapsucker closely resembles the yellow­bellied sapsucker, and the 2 hybridize in southwestern Alberta; the red-naped also hybridizes with the red-breasted from British Columbia south to eastern California. Monotypic. Length 8".


Very similar in all plumages to the yellow-­bellied, but with slightly more red on the head. Adult male: the red crown is bordered by black, with a small red patch below black nape bar; the chin and throat are red, with the red color partially invading the black malar stripe that outlines the throat; the breast is black. Adult female: similar to male, but the chin is white (red on rare individual females), and the red on crown and throat is slightly less extensive, more completely bordered by black; red on nape may be nearly or completely absent. Juvenile: closely resembles the juvenile yellow-bellied, but adultlike face pattern is attained by beginning of October (brown may be retained on the breast into midwinter).

Similar Species

Male yellow-bellied sapsuckers can rarely show some red on the nape. In the red-naped the red throat invades or completely covers the black border along the malar, and the pale markings on the back are whiter and more restricted. Female red-napeds with maximal red on the chin and throat closely resemble the male yellow-bellied, but usually have white on uppermost chin and a hint of red on the nape; note also back pattern differences. The male red-naped sapsucker, with maximal red invading the auricular and malar regions, may not be distinguishable from red-breasted x red-naped hybrids; such hybrids usually have only limited black on the breast, auriculars, and sides of crown.

Status and Distribution

Common. Breeding: Aspen parklands and deciduous groves within open coniferous woodlands or adjacent to montane forest. Breeding range narrowly overlaps that of the yellow-bellied sapsucker in Alberta, with some hybridization. Winter: riparian and pine-oak woodlands, orchards, and shade trees south to northwestern and north-central. Mexico. Winters rarely north on the Pacific coast to Washington, and British Columbia. Vagrant: casual east to Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southeastern Louisiana.


Generally stable.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006